Rumblings. There have been a lot of grim rumblings in this column lately. I've found myself writing a lot about dining out peeves.
Baseball hats at the table, inexperienced servers, loud music and what some diners simply call "noise."
Many complaints are justified, and there is always room for improvement. But today I'm looking on the bright side. I'm being grateful - a whole three months before Thanksgiving! Here are some things in the local restaurant world that I am happy about right now.
. Innovation in the vegetable department. We are seeing much more of it. It isn't just limp zucchini "medley" any more.Partly this stems from the locavore movement and a growing appreciation for what we have in our own backyard. Good restaurants are using locally grown ingredients as they come in season. (You can't tell me that that squishy summer squash, which was once the only thing on offer, did not start out encased in a block of ice.)
Diners are developing a palate for crisply cooked fresh green beans, different varieties of eggplant and Asian basil, and chefs aren't afraid to use them.
But while you're at it, could we see a few more stuffed zucchini flowers on menus? Please? And now, NOW is the time to offer (and order) a Caprese salad, with red ripe local tomatoes. (It's not a great idea in January.) Panzanella (Italian bread salad with cucumbers, peppers and tomatoes) is for September, too.
Obviously, it's much easier to present innovative meals in late summer and early fall, when ripe vegetables are falling all over themselves. Winter can present a challenge. But there are ways to meet that challenge. Root vegetables, turnips! (I'm a nut for turnips.) And what about beans? I personally will award a medal to any chef brave enough to offer to offer cassoulet.
. More outdoor tables. An old time restaurateur once told me that it was not possible to make any money during a Western New York summer unless outdoor dining was provided. That was at the beginning of the let's-get-those-tables-out-on-the sidewalk craze.
But during this admittedly wonderful summer, it's harder to find a restaurant where you could not eat al fresco. Do diners love fresh air? Look at fabulous Larkinville for starters.
Notice how it's always the outside tables that get filled first.
Let's hope that some of these places will offer outdoor facilities into late fall.
. More water-view establishments. Maybe this is an extension of the preceding paragraphs. I have been noticing more places not just water side but with better water views. It's just a trickle right now - we will hope for a flood. The Central Wharf is ripe with possibilities. (Liberty Hound is fun, but the water itself is out of sight unless you eat outside.)
A recent story in The News reported that the Hatch will expand. If they also do something about the slow service, we'll all sing "Anchors Aweigh."
And maybe when the new construction is finished, there will be even more to see. We have fingers crossed that they think ahead.
The Ellicott Creek / Erie Canal area in North Tonawanda and City of Tonawanda offers more possibilities. The newly opened Smoke on the Water bodes well for more to come.
Send your questions and comments about dining out to Janice Okun at firstname.lastname@example.org. She will respond in this column, which appears every Wednesday in the Taste section of The Buffalo News.